Is Mainstream Media Over Occupy Wall Street?

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Was last week’s OWS May Day action successful? If the goal was regaining mainstream media’s attention after a winter hibernation, the answer is a pretty solid no. As Natasha Lennard, Salon‘s Occupy blogger, noted this morning, the lack of stories about Tuesday’s general strike indicates that “the mainstream media’s interest in Occupy Wall Street has waned. It’s a shame because, as a new report indicates, Occupy has been central to driving media stories about income inequality in America.”

That report, compiled by reporter John Knefel for FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting), analyzed mainstream media’s coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protests and the issues of income inequality and corporate greed over the past six months. According to the research, the heaviest media coverage occurred in October 2011 — then slowed over the winter and nosedived in February.

Chart tracking 'income inequality' mentions in mainstream media

Chart courtesy of <em>Common Dreams</em>

“As mentions of ‘Occupy Wall Street’ or ‘Occupy movement’ waned in early 2012, so too have mentions of ‘income inequality’ and, to an even greater extent, ‘corporate greed.’ The trend is true for four leading papers (New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, L.A. Times), news programs on the major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC), cable (MSNBC, CNN, Fox News) and NPR, according to searches of the Nexis news media database. Google Trends data also indicates that from January to March, the phrases “income inequality” and “corporate greed” declined in volume of both news stories and searches.

From June 2011 through March 2012, mentions of the phrase ‘income inequality’ in the four papers first increased dramatically, then decreased slightly more slowly. The number of mentions per month ranged from 8 to 15 between June and September. Then in October, when OWS coverage peaked, ‘income inequality’ mentions increased nearly fourfold to 44, and reached 52 mentions in November. January had a total of 64 mentions, though 13 of those stories focused on President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.” Read more »

Media coverage of last week’s spring resurgence was nowhere near as plentiful as last fall, and often dismissive and negative in tone. The Nation‘s Allison Kilkenny writes that crowd estimates were under reported, particularly by Reuters, which called the day a “dud,” and the New York Daily News which “absurdly claimed that mere ‘hundreds of activists across the U.S.’ participated in the marches even though in New York City alone, tens of thousands of people took to the streets.”

Lennard writes that protesters may be disheartened by the press coverage and the FAIR report admitting that it’s “reasonable (although perhaps less so after the mass mobilizations in streets across the country on May 1) to debate Occupy’s current relevance.” She goes on to say that she believes “the fault is … with a mainstream political and media machine that ignores economic and social inequality — hence the importance of radical movements.”

One worries, as Daily Beast columnist Harry Siegel did last Wednesday, whether future actions might rely more heavily on violence, mayhem and other “black-bloc tactics”:

“It’s not an abstract concern. Smaller West Coast May Day demonstrations Tuesday in Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and elsewhere saw black blocs skirmishing with the police. In New York, black-bloc groups masked up and emerged from several smaller marches that had seemed peaceful, clashing with police and also attacking several press photographers. …

Protesters march down Broadway toward the financial district in New York, Tuesday, May 1, 2012. Hundreds of activists with a variety of causes spread out over New York City on International Workers Day, or May Day, with Occupy Wall Street members leading a charge against financial institutions. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Protesters march down Broadway toward the financial district in New York, Tuesday, May 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Planners defend diversity of tactics as a means of accomplishing three things: drawing press attention to the bigger issues they’re concerned with, exposing how the police in their view cater to moneyed interests rather than protect citizens, and preparing those citizens for wider-spread acts of civil disobedience.

Of course, drawing a police response also helps draw press, which in turn helps attract new members to Occupy.”

On the brighter side, Newsweek reporter Matt DeLuca, noted the New York City march went off with few incidents, and that the number of participants grew throughout the day. He wondered if the addition of union members to the Occupy ranks might be the beginning of a new direction for the OWS movement.

The reinforcements from the outer boroughs, and from outside New York entirely, may be another sign that Occupy is growing horizontally. But more important for the sake of spectacle Tuesday were the unions, whose numbers helped swell the day’s main march to make it one of Occupy’s single largest protests since it emerged last fall.

What are your thoughts? Do you think Occupy Wall Street protesters will regain their autumn momentum?

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